Ursula Johnson Addresses Ancestry, Identity, and Cultural Practice in Mi’kwite’tmn – Do You Remember
A nationally touring exhibition opens on January 17 at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. Ursula Johnson: Mi’kwite’tmn (‘Do You Remember’) explores the state of traditional Mi’kmaw basketry—a practice few youth are keeping alive today in the aboriginal community.
WireService.ca Media Release (01/14/2015) Charlottetown, PEI – A Nova Scotia native, Johnson learned Mi’kmaw ash splint basket weaving from her great-grandmother, the late Caroline Gould. Organized by the Saint Mary University Art Gallery and curated by Robin Metcalfe, the artist’s work uses three separate components to confront ideas of identity, ancestry, and the exhibition of aboriginal material culture.
In the ‘Museological Grand Hall,’ Mi’kmaw text and diagrammatic images of baskets made by the artist’s great-grandmother are etched on wooden and glass cases using various silk-screening and sand-blasting techniques. In an interactive component in the adjacent ‘Archive Room,’ visitors may don white gloves to scan and explore shelves lined with ‘mutant’ basket-like objects, each bearing a separate barcode. Two computer terminals display information relating to the form being scanned.
Finally, in Johnson’s performance piece, she sets herself the brutal task of turning an ash wood log into thin splints for weaving—brutal because the artist willfully makes the splints unusable, emphasizing the current generation’s disconnect from traditional material culture. This is a public plea to encourage learning about these skills and Mi’kmaw history, and a sharp contrast to the practice of simply preserving such artifacts in museum spaces and archives.
Mi’kwite’tmn (Do You Remember) will officially open on January 17 at 7 p.m. with an artist talk and tour of the work. There is no cost to attend and all are welcome. The live performance element will take place from March 7-10 in the Centre’s Lower East Gallery. Johnson will split and pound wood into splints from over three days and the residue of tools and shavings will remain in the space after the performance has finished. The final component, an artist panel discussion surrounding the presentation of aboriginal artifacts in museums, will take place in April 2015 with further details to be announced soon.